London Cocktail Week 2014

When I found out that this week was London Cocktail Week, I cleared my schedule. Or, I would have done if my schedule actually had anything on it. I figured it’d be a pretty awesome way to find fun new places in the city, and let’s be honest, I love a good cocktail. Armed with the Cocktail Week guide and a complete lack of knowledge about London, I mapped out my attack on the city.

Les Femmes du Bar Aperitif of Happiness

My first event was a party thrown in honour of the St Germain ladies at Happiness Forgets, a trendy underground bar in Hoxton. I know, an underground bar. I get to pretend like I’m cool. Anyone who has ever been for cocktails with me will know that I’m a sucker for elderflower anything, so this seemed like a good choice to start the week right.

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It only took me one and a half circuits of the square to find the right set of stairs, and I’m pretty sure it would have taken less time had I not been trying to play it cool and pretend I knew exactly where the secret bar was. My playing it cool was ruined anyway, when I nearly took the event photographer off his feet on the way down the stairs. And I don’t mean in a struck-by-lightning-be-my-new-muse kind of way, more in a bison-colliding-with-a-barn-door kind of way. Mr photographer, if you’re reading, my sincerest apologies.

Happiness Forgets is a seriously cool little place, just a few candelit tables tucked away, surrounded by dark wood, stripped furnishings and the inescapable feeling that you should be plotting something riotous. I pulled out my camera, ready to capture this wonderful ambience, only to find that it had switched itself on in my bag and run its battery to death. I was fairly miffed, seeing as how I’d carted it through two rush hour tube commutes and it weighs roughly as much as a small baby, but my nerves were soon soothed by the arrival of a complimentary St Germain cocktail.

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The cocktail was sharp, sweet and refreshing, and the gorgeous St Germain elderflower was everything I hoped it would be. Refills were decidedly pricey, at £8 per cocktail, but I suppose that’s the Glasgow girl still getting used to London prices. I allowed myself to sample one more and then headed for home – it was a school night after all.

Art & Cocktails at Canvas Bar

Canvas is the kind of place that could really only exist in Shoreditch. Delicious cocktails served against a backdrop of smooth, old-school music and live art located just ten minutes from Shoreditch High Street station. The boyfriend was headed to a course all evening, so after a quick change and a swipe of lipstick in the work bathrooms (because I’m a classy lady), I pulled myself up a stool for the evening.

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The barman struck up a conversation immediately, and was happy to recommend cocktails for the uninitiated. I went for a fruity rum one to start with, and grabbed a seat at one of the high tables to watch the strange and beautiful creatures of Shoreditch go by. The barman having slightly overpoured, my cocktail came accompanied with a little refill, which immediately earns Canvas approximately a billion brownie points.

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I sipped away happily for an hour or so, watching the canvases for the live art being set up.

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The canvases were themed “The Story So Far” and “If I Could Time Travel”, and pens were left scattered in front for artistically inclined punters to use. I ordered myself another cocktail, going for what basically amounted to a very, very alcoholic chocolate milkshake. It came served with a Ferrero Rocher. Another billion brownie points for Canvas.

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Again, as it was a school night, I checked out pretty early, the bravery afforded by two cocktails possessing me to add my own doodle to the “If I Could Time Travel” canvas.

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Photos of the blunt fringe to be provided on request.

If anyone has any photos of the canvases at the end of the night, I’d love to see them! Canvas was a fab little place, and I’d imagine it hotted up considerably as the night grew later, with live music, art and evermore cocktails being served. I’ll definitely be back on a non-school night.

Champagne Cocktails in the Sky

This, right here, shows how powerful a motivator having a blog is. I love people, and I love new things, but this is tempered by a hardwired shyness and anxiety that I’ve never been able to fully shake. I’ve been known to bail on events simply because I was too scared to go, and you’d better believe that going to an exclusive champagne tasting on your own, in a brand new city is pretty damn scary. If I wasn’t writing this up for the blog, I probably would never have bought a ticket for this.

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Lanson champagne were holding a champagne masterclass, complete with tasting, at the spectacular Altitude champagne bar in Millbank Tower. Infuriatingly, the weather turned before this event, so my photographs of the genuinely breathtaking views were marred by the smirry rain and fog.

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These don’t even begin to do it justice, so I guess you’ll all just have to go see for yourself.

We were given a quick history of champagne cocktails, and of Lanson itself, before being presented with three beautiful, but very different, cocktails to try.

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Being on my own, I was immediately adopted by everyone else sharing the sofa, and made some amazing new friends. Champagne glasses were clinked, entirely inappropriate jokes were sniggered at and names and email addresses were scrawled in the back of our champagne handbooks. In short, these people were nothing like the snooty, terrifying people I had expected to bump into at a champagne tasting.

We headed to the bar to sample each of the three champagnes on their own, and I now feel very fancy indeed to be able to say that Lanson Black Label Brut is my favourite champagne. It goes down far too easily, mind you.

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The service here was amazing, everyone was so friendly, the champagne was far too delicious and the views were just the cherry on an absolutely spectacular evening. This was exactly what I wanted from London Cocktail Week – something a little bit special, a bit out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, after this evening, I caught a touch of the lurgy, which I fully blame on the man who spent the full 9 minutes between Highbury Islington and Euston spluttering and wheezing directly in my face, so I wasn’t able to make the second half of my Cocktail Week. Instead of drunken crazy golf (no really, this is a thing, and I am fully rescheduling) and bloody mary soaked brunches, I spent the second half of this week catching up on Bakeoff and watching Star Wars with the boyfriend.

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Not gonna lie, I like this as much as I like cocktail gallivanting. While I was slightly gutted to be missing some great events, it does mean that I have a few places still to visit, starting with Swingers cocktail and crazy golf club. Niall and I are currently tied on the crazy golf stakes, so I think it’s time to revive that old rivalry. Pass me that putter…and a daiquiri.

The Broke Folks’ Guide to London: Disobedient Objects

Today, I decided it was time to get a bit of culture, what with living in a city entirely filled with art, music, fashion and theatre. So I headed to the V&A to check out their Disobedient Objects exhibition, an exhibition of everyday objects that have been used in protests across the world. Suck it, man who assumed I was there to see the wedding dresses.

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This is what a feminist looks like.

In Scotland, September basically might as well be January, so I foolishly wore the world’s biggest cardigan, only to take it off 10 seconds after leaving the house and cart it around all day. My life is so hard sometimes.

Anyway.

The exhibition is amazing. Genuinely breathtaking. My advice would be to shut down your computer right now and go see it yourself. But if you’re too far away, or can’t be bothered, or just want a little sneak preview, you cheeky thing, you, read on.

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The exhibition takes place in a small barred room, accessed underneath a security gate – a little nod to the use of barricades in protest since whenever barricades were invented. A soundtrack composed of music, chants and speeches from various protests is broadcast via a revamped Bike Bloc – an old discarded bike, with speakers welded into it, used to breach the security cordon at the COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2009. I fully regret not taking a photograph of it, it’s quite a contraption. Banners in every colour and language stripe across the ceiling, messages of hope and anger strewn through them in equal measure. And then, there are the Disobedient Objects themselves. I couldn’t take photos of all of them, so here are just a few of my favourites.

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After Hurricane Sandy hit, independent movements were set up to provide aid and assistance to those who needed it, as well as to criticise the lack of national response. When the National Guard did arrive on the scene, the immediately reported to the volunteers for training.

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Text reads “This season’s well dressed blockader may choose to carry -“. Because who says fashion and protest can’t mix?

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Legal advice for gay people in case of arrest, including the credit-card sized bust card advising them of their rights. Also, an excellently intimidating gay rights banner and a somewhat fabulous blockader’s guide.

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One of my favourite installations at the exhibition, this video showed a newsreel detailing the escapades of the Barbie Liberation Organisation. In 1993, the BLO switched the voiceboxes of around 500 talking Barbie dolls and GI Joes, before returning them to the shelves to be sold as normal. Serious props to the little girl who, when asked by a newsreader if she was disappointed when her Barbie started making explosion noises, said “I thought it was hilarious, so I just started laughing”.

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These are arpilleras, artworks made by women using appliquéd textiles. The practice originated in Chile, where the pieces were sold through solidarity networks, providing income for the women and their families. As powerful men are wont to do when it comes to poor women, the leaders of the country dismissed the pieces as simple “folk art”, blind to the frequently subversive messages they were disseminating.

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Oh, my mistake. How did a perfectly ordinary photograph of the Sun get in here?

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A museum sign which definitely was not in any way encouraging you to commit acts of protest against seriously fucking unfair income growth in the UK.

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Placards, stickers and billboards supporting causes still going on throughout the world. There was even a little hint of home…

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This is a seriously amazing collection, and I feel thoroughly honoured that I got to see these objects, and thoroughly grateful to the people who used them to improve the lives of myself and those like me. Stay disobedient, folks, it’s how things get done.

Wuthering Heights

Okay, so this post is late. Like, very late. Like, approximately three weeks late. But it’s not like I could let a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity pass by without a blog post, so you’ll all just have to deal with it.

I would like, if I may, to take you on a journey into the past. Let’s take it back three weeks.

*Time travel arms and sci-fi music*

So. We’ve had a pretty big development in Fionaland. I moved to London. Hooray!

My lovely little view.

My lovely little view.

And my lovely, lovely dad drove all of my stuff down to London. He and the little sister dropped the boxes at my flat and we headed into town for a date with a very special lady…

But before we could head for our final destination, there were a few very important things to be taken care of. Namely, eating and drinking ourselves into an early grave. We headed for Bill’s in Soho, where we took up residence for a couple of hours.

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Firstly, and most importantly, I’d like to shake the hand of whoever thought of putting leek in macaroni cheese. Assuming that it was Bill, I take my hat off to you, sir. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Bill’s juxtaposes bright, rainbow coloured tin with rustic scrubbed wood, squishy armchairs and opulent chandeliers. It basically feels like the coolest, cosiest family-run restaurant you’ve ever been to. We settled in with a round of Hedgerow Fizzes, featuring prosecco, elderflower cordial and frozen blackberries. And then we had another round. And then another for good measure. Then we reasoned that maybe we should slow down if we didn’t want a repeat of the antics from Sophie’s birthday. So we decided to overindulge in food instead. Sophie and I both went for the macaroni cheese with leek and asparagus, and enormous cups of chips. Dad went for a pie that I’m pretty sure took him to another plane of existence. After those enormous portions, there was no way we were managing a dess…wait, pecan pie on the menu? Down it goes.

Absolutely stuffed and in desperate need of a lie down, we decided to go check into our hotel. The Doubletree Hotel at the Tower of London boasts the kind of understated luxury that I’ve come to recognise as standard for Hilton hotels. Dad went to the desk to check us in, and Sophie and I decided to nosy around the lobby. There were about four books tastefully decorating the shelves, and I was very excited to note the significance of one in particular.

IMG_3960We were given cookies at check in, which, being so full, we couldn’t possibly have…oh, go on then, you devil.

IMG_3963After lying down and making star shapes for a while, we headed up to the very top of the hotel to check out one of my dads favourite London haunts, the rooftop bar. With breathtaking views of Tower Bridge and the Shard, and umbrellas fitted with patio heaters, I could have stayed there for hours.

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sky bar

Yes we did steal my dad’s iPad and upload this photo to his Facebook. Muahahahaha.

A quick lipstick reapplication and we were ready to hit the town again. This time, we headed for Mark’s Bar in Soho, the edgy cocktail bar underneath Hix restaurant. Enormous leather sofas, bar billiards tables and verging-on-dangerously-low-lighting set the tone for this seriously cool bar. The cocktail menu is as baffling as it is fabulous and more than once, we had to call over a bartender to explain an ingredient to us.

This is me pretending to be Don Draper.

This is me pretending to be Don Draper.

IMG_3977 IMG_3972My cocktail had smoke as an ingredient. Like, actual smoke. We also indulged in a little trio of bar snacks, which stubbornly refused to be photographed, but which included chips and curry sauce, slabs of pork crackling and chicken popcorn, which turned out to be actual chicken flavoured popcorn. Wild. I could try and explain this place to you, but I’ll never do it justice, so just go. The staff are ridiculously nice, and get genuinely excited when they have to explain the cocktails to you, unlike a lot of places that would immediately write you off as a philistine and refuse to serve you.

After the cocktails, it was finally, FINALLY time for the main event. For tonight, me and dad were scheduled to spend three hours listening to the unrivalled, incomparable Kate Bush.

I know. Touch me.

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This was probably the first gig I’ve ever been to where the ticket touts outside were frantically trying to get hold of tickets, rather than get rid of them. We muscled our way through the crowd, which apparently included Kylie Minogue and, wait for it, Mel from the Great British Bakeoff, to take our seats in the gallery.

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The curtain rose, the lady herself took to the stage, and so began three of the most bizarre and spellbinding hours I’ve ever spent in my life. The show is primarily made up of two separate performance pieces, the Ninth Wave and a Sky of Honey. I absolutely adored the Ninth Wave, the maudlin tale of a woman drifting in the ocean after her ship sinks, unsure whether she’s going to survive the night. Having read my programme from cover to cover, I have since learned that Kate got hypothermia filming the video sections of the piece, after spending seven straight hours in a water tank. That is commitment, people. Probably also insanity, but what’s genius without a little insanity? I don’t want to say too much about the show itself, because I don’t want to spoil it for people who have yet to see it. If you have yet to see it, you’re in for a treat, you lucky, lucky thing. No one commands a stage like Kate does. Her voice has deepened and enrichened (that’s not even a word, but I’m going to leave it there) with age, and now forms a seriously powerful instrument. Even the old, familiar songs sounded different to me. It was an absolutely amazing show, and I feel genuinely privileged to have seen such an absolute master perform. Actual once in a lifetime opportunities don’t come along all that often, and I can safely say that this is one I will remember forever.

The Broke Folks’ Guide To London: Fashion’s Night Out

This week saw the glamourous and gorgeous of London descend on the shopping district for a night of fun, fashion and freebies. Enjoy that alliteration, I did it just for you guys. That’s right, it was time for British Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out.

At first glance, I might not seem like the best fit for Fashion’s Night Out.

Everything in my wardrobe is at least two years old.

The vast majority of photos on my phone are failed selfies, deemed too embarrassing to ever see the light of day.

And I’m so skint that my dad took pity on me and topped up my Oyster card for me last week.

But I do love a good night out, and I thought, why shouldn’t the broke girls of London be represented? Note: these people can smell poverty, they really can. But if you can hold your own in a little River Island dress among a sea of Chanel and Mulberry, and feel totally fine quaffing the free champagne and sailing purchaseless past cross security guards, go for it.

Problem number one: I had nothing to wear. I raided my wardrobe and decided that you can’t really go far wrong with a pretty dress.

Tah-dah! My pretty little dress.

Tah-dah! My pretty little dress.

I examined my outfit from every angle, only to be completely ignored by the majority of people I encountered. Seriously, even the flyerers didn’t see me half the time. They can sense the high street coming off me.

I called my driver and had him take me to Oxford Street.

My driver is so darn generous.

My driver is so darn generous.

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Yes, that is a portable Elemis spa. I seriously considered it, but figured that it would probably be unwise having spent the past 45 minutes carefully applying my face.

First stop on my whirlwind tour was Jo Malone, who were launching a new fragrance: Wood Sage & Sea Salt. I grabbed my first glass of bubbles and set about sampling as many gorgeous fragrances as I could.

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The new fragrance was lovely, but as predicted, failed to knock Peony & Blush Suede off the pedestal as my favourite of their scents. What surprised me though, was that I did find a perfume which did: Nectarine Blossom & Honey. I’m not usually a fan of honey scents, but this one was light and sweet without being cloying, and had me wandering around creepily sniffing my hand for the rest of the evening.

Having hung around sipping champagne and sniffing things for as long as I could without becoming suspicious, I headed to my next shop, my favourite of the evening: Space.NK Apothecary. Despite the River Island dress, I received a genuinely lovely, warm welcome, and the ladies on the door made me feel right at home straight away. By the time I got inside the shop, I had another glass of champagne in one hand and a stripy box of popcorn in the other. Excellent.

The range of glorious skincare on offer was heaven for a skincare junkie like me. Seriously, reading about other people’s skincare routines is like meditation to me – tell me what you put on your face! I did consider sneakily giving myself a full Eve Lom facial with all the testers, but decided that would probably be frowned upon. But I am so definitely heading back there for some goodies when I am less broke. They were also launching their beautiful new Silver Screen lipstick range, which they were showing off by giving glamourous femme fatale makeovers in the back of the shop. And they were running a lucky dip, which proved very lucky for me!

Such happiness.

Such happiness.

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I won a gorgeous Lipstick Queen lipstick in Sinner Red, a cool-toned Cruella red that made my eyes green like whoa.

Lipstick and swatch:

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Swatch on my face:

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This creamy lipstick packed one hell of a colour punch, with not a hint of shimmer in sight. This was a big plus: I have serious attitude problems when it comes to shimmery lipsticks. It also boasts awesome staying power, surviving a plate of risotto and two cups of tea after I got home. Can you feel the glamour?

Heading up Oxford Street, I came to House of Fraser, where the red carpet was well and truly rolled out. Here, the official Vogue Fashion’s Night Out cover shoot was taking place, complete with the chance to get your makeup done by YSL head makeup artist, Fred Letailleur and YSL goodie bags. This was an agonising decision, dear readers, because if I had gone for it, this would have been a very short blog post: the queue was all the way into the back of the shop. If anyone got one of the coveted YSL goodie bags, it would be great if you could tell me that what was in them wasn’t even that good. Slightly heartbroken, I gawked at the skills of the makeup artist for a while and then slunk away to continue my journey.

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I stopped off at Molton Brown, my favourite splurging site, to try out the new fragrance they were launching: Oudh Accord and Gold. The scent was a bit honey-y for me, so I wasn’t crazy about it, but the packaging is typically beautiful for Molton Brown, with gold flakes suspended all through the product. Also, they had macaroons, champagne with gold leaf and a super-friendly security guard, so I’m willing to forgive them.

Continuing down Regent Street, I passed shop after designer shop that looked more like nightclubs than shops. DJs, photographers, velvet roped queues, even live magic acts were on full display all the way down the street.

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I browsed J Crew, which had the best champagne, but also the snootiest assistants by far. I seriously considered buying something, just to show them up, but then figured that that was probably the point, so refrained. They were launching two new fragrances, and having read a lovely interview with Creative Director, Jenna Lyons, I decided to try them out. No. 57 is a unisex fragrance, and of the two, it was the one I preferred. It was woody and smoky, and very sexy, but still not a patch on my beloved Jo Malone. I wasn’t a fan of the No. 31, it reminded me of the sickly sweet body sprays you fog yourself with as a teen. But if you like sweet, flowery scents, you might be onto a winner.

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The accessories section was absolutely jumping, and I soon discovered that free gifts were being given away with every purchase. However, even the embellished hair ties and coasters were coming in at about £15, so again, I had to resist. Lots of shops were doing free gifts with purchases, so if you were a broke girl with a little bit of money, as opposed to a broke girl who actually doesn’t know if she’ll be able to buy food in a month, the evening could be very lucrative indeed.

Last on my trip was a little flurry of bath and body shops. I nipped into Crabtree and Evelyn, and immediately fell in love with their Wisteria scent. It smells so much like parma violets. I realise that I just said I didn’t like sweet floral scents, but I will always, always make an exception for parma violets.

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Right next door was L’Occitane, a longtime favourite of anyone with a nose. I feel like I’m not alone in saying that I’d buy up the entire shop in a heartbeat, but I particularly fell for the Jasmine & Bergamot range from their Grasse collection. This was the one time in the evening that I truly swithered over getting my purse out. It is absolutely gorgeous.

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Last up was a shop a bit closer to my price range, and my heart: Lush. At this point, things were starting to wind down, but after five glasses of champagne, I didn’t really mind that too much. I just had time to nip in and pick up a tub of their much-applauded Ultrabland cleanser. Only having used it once, I can’t really say what it’s going to do for my skin in the long run, but in the short term, I’m impressed. The waxy texture makes it loads of fun to use, and the oil base means that it melts makeup away with no scrubbing or scraping. It’s also super moisturising, making it one of the few cleansers I’ve used that doesn’t leave my face feeling tight. Just soft, glowing glowiness.

Haul for the evening:

  • Five glasses of champagne.
  • A macaroon.
  • A box of popcorn.
  • A cone of donuts.
  • A beautiful lipstick.
  • A snazzy new cleanser.

And all that for only £8. Not a bad night out for a broke girl. I did all this in two hours as well, so if you were more committed/wearing more comfortable shoes, there was loads more on offer.

Things I’m gutted I missed:

  • Topshop were doing glittery lips. I know I said I had attitude about shimmer, but straight up glitter? Bring it on. They looked amazing.
  • SOMEONE was giving out champagne ice lollies. If anyone knows who, do let me know.
  • Links London were doing fashion illustrations of their guests. I walked past just after 6 and foolishly thought that the queue was too big. This was only because I had not yet seen the queues to come. So beautiful, and a lovely keepsake.
  • The Radley dogs were in House of Fraser somewhere. There are photos of them all over Instagram. I just have no idea where they were. Curse you, enormous department store!

Would I do it again? Hell yes I would. It was loads of fun, and I got to do tons of research for when my broke-ness finally ends (no word yet on when that will happen). Who knows, maybe next year I’ll have enough money to go on a shopping spree. But for this year, I’ll take all the free champagne I can get.